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How ‘R#J’ Cast and Filmmakers Brought Shakespeare Into the Diverse, Digital Age (Video)

Sundance 2021: Director Carey Williams said the push for representation in Hollywood made it feel like the right time to bring back ”Romeo & Juliet“

Shakespeare’s famous tale of doomed lovers Romeo and Juliet has been reinvented countless times, but “R#J,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday night, tells the tragedy through computer screens and social media.

“You think about why there needs to be another ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but this way we’re telling it gave us a reason to tell it,” director Carey Williams said at TheWrap’s Sundance Studio presented by NFP and National Geographic. “The representation we have in the movie gave us another reason, especially with the…world that we’re in today. So I was excited about that, excited about expanding my voice as a filmmaker by doing something I haven’t done and doing something the people have never done before.”

That diversity can be seen with stars like Camaron Engels and Francesca Noel, who star as the Black Romeo and the Latina Juliet. They both joined Williams on the panel alongside Diego Tinoco and Siddiq Saunderson, who play Juliet’s violent brother Tybalt and Romeo’s closest friend Mercutio, respectively.

“I love breaking rules! I love changing the norm…but as a person who went to study Shakespeare to specifically know what every single word meant…I would sit in there asking, ‘Are we allowed to do this? Is this OK? Are people going to be OK that we have Romeo sliding into Juliet’s DMs, so to speak?'” Engels said.

But, ultimately, Engels found that the social media format was a perfect fit for “Romeo & Juliet,” as did Noel, who felt that the social anxiety often expressed by teens on social media aligned with the anxiety that the play’s two protagonists feel as they seek each other’s love despite the bitter feud between their families.

“The story is so much about outside involvement in these teens’ relationship and we see that mirrored in social media today and what that does to mental health,” Noel said. “It was really interesting to see what they had done to the script and add all those elements there, but I also think it was really revolutionary to see two people of color leading a feature film. That’s not something we see…and it seems to be in this industry we’re in that the world might explode if we have two people of color together.

Watch the full interview with the director and cast of “R#J” in the video above.

TheWrap’s Sundance Virtual Studio is sponsored by NFP and National Geographic.